Officials have spoken of their outrage after a player whose leg was broken in a derby game lay in agonising pain for five hours waiting for an ambulance.
Willington AFC player Gareth Ayers sustained the injury in a red-card challenge during a night match at Crook Town AFC, County Durham, on Friday.
Bystanders immediately called 999 at 8.50pm – but the 25-year-old had to wait until 1.30am on Saturday for a paramedic to arrive.
The delay – which comes just days after Darlington RA player Michael Coleman, 28, waited two hours on a damp, cold pitch after breaking his leg – last night prompted calls for an urgent review into the emergency services in the region.
And angry officials at the Willington club say they will write to Prime Minister David Cameron and North West Durham MP Pat Glass to demand high-level intervention.
Officials at both football clubs believe that if Mr Ayers had not been moved from the pitch he could have perished as temperature outside dipped below freezing.
Crook chairman Vince Kirkup said: “Friday was very cold – he couldn’t have survived outside.
“Luckily for him, our experienced physio Jim Vipond got him safely off the pitch and he was stretchered inside.
“At about midnight most players had gone home and just a few of us stayed back to help and console him.
“We stretchered him to the clubhouse thinking it couldn’t be much longer and would be easier for the ambulance but he still had a long time to wait. All we could give him was two ibuprofen.
“The 999 call centre, paramedic and ambulance staff were all good but the system is failing.”
Willington club secretary Geoff Siddle added: “It was so frustrating and stressful for everyone. Gareth was obviously in so much pain, pure agony. It was a grave situation.
“The big worry is that we know of two or three incidents recently just in Northern League football, there must be people routinely having to suffer.”
Last night David Thompson, secretary at Crook, said he plans to write to politicians, including Mr Cameron and local MP Ms Glass.
“I do not believe this is right across the country, in the North-East we’re far enough away to be forgotten,” he said.
“I’m calling for an urgent review of emergency services in the region and the action and funds needed to bring about change.”
A paramedic arrived at the Millfield ground at 1.30am followed by an ambulance at 1.44am. The player was taken to the University Hospital of North Durham, in Durham City, where it was confirmed he had a broken right shin and will undergo surgery today.
Speaking from hospital, Mr Ayers, of Bishop Auckland, who knows there was no malice in the tackle, said: “I was in constant, horrendous pain for five hours.
“I absolutely understand people in life-threatening situations need helping first, but what I went through cannot be right.”
Partner Rebecca Steel planned to celebrate her birthday with Mr Ayers after the game, but was instead by his side comforting him and only left for a short while to take supplies to a relative who was babysitting their four-month-old daughter, Scarlett.
A North-East Ambulance Service spokeswoman said: “This is not the level of response that we would have wanted for this patient and we would like to apologise for the delay.
“This was a particularly busy night for our service, with more than 60 per cent of the calls we received that evening categorised as potentially life threatening.
“With such a spike in demand, compounded by delays faced in our local hospitals with patient handovers, it can be difficult to reach those patients whose conditions are not immediately life threatening, leaving them waiting longer than we would like.
“We did try and dispatch two ambulances to this particular patient but both were diverted to potentially more serious life threatening incidents.
“If the patient would like to contact us directly, we would be happy to investigate his call further.”
Source: Willington AFC